Essay, Faith

The sacrifice of thanksgiving

First published 23 November 2013. I’m not by nature a happy person. That doesn’t mean I’m an unhappy person. I just don’t go around all day thinking sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. I see the good and the bad.

I’m also a bit of a type-A personality. I have a considerable internal drive to make things better and to fix what is broken. I spend a lot of my time frustrated because I just can’t fix it all. Sometimes the problems are beyond my abilities, and frequently I lack the resources I need.

So you see where my focus is: more on the bad than the good. I’m aware of the good but I feel the bad.

The other day in some words in a psalm caused me to stop dead. From Psalm 50, verses 14-15 and 23:

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me.

sacrifice of thanksgiving? I know all of these words individually, of course, but strung together in that order I struggled to understand them.

So I asked, because this came up during a Bible study. The leader said, “One way to look at it is that you’re giving up ingratitude. But thanksgiving itself really is a sacrifice.”

It left me more puzzled than satisfied.

But as I studied it and thought about it, I came to see that just because something is always wrong, and some things are very wrong, it is a sacrifice to set it aside for awhile and be grateful for what is good and right.

This helped me realize that I had lost touch with something important. 15 years ago, my life fell apart. And as I put my life back together, the bad days and bad things dwarfed the good. I had to search hard for the good. They were usually very small things, and they were always very few in number. But I looked for them, because finding something good in every bad day was the knot at the end of the rope to which I clung.

My living room in the morning
One small thing for which I am frequently surprisingly grateful: the morning sun streaming through my front windows. I love how the warm light plays against the wall.

Thanks to a lot of hard work over the past several years, there’s way more good than bad now. But I’m still that guy who wants to fix and improve things – and often that’s all I can think of.

It’s hard to sacrifice it and offer up thanksgiving to God.

Perhaps that’s why it’s a sacrifice. When things are truly going poorly, when the biggest thing I have to be thankful for is mighty small, it can really hurt to thank God for it. And for some reason, at least for me, when more is right than is wrong it’s easy to focus on the wrong. It is still surprisingly hard to thank God for what is good.

And a sacrifice – you should feel it. Otherwise it’s not a sacrifice.

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16 thoughts on “The sacrifice of thanksgiving

  1. -N- says:

    For me, your perspective that you find more wrong in life than right or good is intriguing. I’ve been accused of being too happy and always finding something good. It has been a very hard life lesson to realize the evil in the world is really there. Perhaps we see more evil or good as we get older and less naive and innocent. In reality, though, seeing the little beauties surrounding us – such as the sunlight in your window – help a lot, but it is also important to see to know where we can help. Sometimes I find myself at a loss as I can do nothing grand or big, but try to be kind when I don’t want to be, even when it means putting out a truth that may not be wanted . . . but how we do things, how we choose to see and believe, I think ultimately colors much of who we are and what we do.

    Happy Thankgiving, Jim!

    • There was a sign in the guidance office at my high school: Each one reach one. If we all did that, wouldn’t the world’s problems largely be solved?

      • -N- says:

        What a great sign! I’ll keep that in mind as an easy way to remember our individual impact upon the world. Enjoy!

  2. You ask some wise questions and give some good answers. At times, we all “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” and it’s difficult to remember a simple fact: without the valleys, we couldn’t have the mountains, our true destination.

    But always keep in mind that you have friends who care about you. And infinitely more important, you have a Father in Heaven who cares about you and who’s proud of your courage in making it through the valley.

  3. tbm3fan says:

    I am also a type A personality and a perfectionist by nature since I was a child. I learned relatively young to only employ those traits to things I could have total control over. If I didn’t have total control then let it ride and pretty much excuse myself from the situation. That way I wouldn’t get aggravated nor aggravate others with my perfectionism. I have also learned that sometimes one can’t get things as perfect as one would like as one lacks the resources necessary to achieve such a goal. So I say to myself that is good enough and I’m happy with it.

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